Archetypal Historiography

A New Historical Approach

Rod O’Neal
From Archai Issue 1, 2009

What is history? The answer to this apparently simple question is both complex and elusive. As the philosopher of history Herbert Butterfield has described the historian’s dilemma, “We may look around for the past, but it is nowhere to be seen.” Yet despite history’s ephemeral and intangible nature, the careful and accurate reconstruction of historical periods is recognized today as not only possible but valuable, yielding consequential insight into the past and thereby illuminating both the present and the future. Although an awareness of the past and the need to chronicle major events has been present to varying extents in most civilizations, the development of the kind of historical consciousness that we recognize today as “history” is relatively recent. As Butterfield points out, “Only after immensely long periods, and under the pressure of strange compulsions, did it come to be realized that a past once forgotten could be recovered to a considerable degree by research.” That realization first emerged in Western Europe during the Italian Renaissance, developing into its full form only in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

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